How Yoga Attends to Grief Instead of Fixing It

Grief doesn't need fixing. Grief needs welcoming.

As a mind-body science yoga can support the grief process, keep things flowing, and anchor us in our exploration.

Once a week I lead a bereavement yoga group at a local hospice center. In this class we don't practice yoga to fix grief the way one might practice yoga to fix back pain or relieve stress. We practice yoga to invite grief to take up space, to surge, to recede, to flow, to be.

When grief moves into our lives uninvited we often try to move out to get away from the pain. Over time this creates a disconnect between the place we're trying to live from and the place we really are.

Yoga invites us back to ourselves just as we are right now. Sometimes that reunion feels good, sometimes it feels bad, but either way it reunites us with ourselves, with our hearts, and allows us to meet ourselves exactly where we are and take the next step forward from there.

Grief can sometimes be classified as a traumatic experience, using the definition of trauma as any experience that overwhelms us physically or emotionally. Not everyone who has a traumatic experience is traumatized, however. If we have resources and support we can often bring our bodies and minds back into balance after an event.

Too often in our modern society people lack both resources and support, thereby turning a heart-breaking experience of loss into a traumatic experience of loss.

To that end yoga that is taught in a trauma-sensitive way attends to grief by incorporating techniques that help students stay anchored in the present moment without getting swept away by emotions, memories, or expectations.

Just as an anchor for a boat does not stop the storm from coming or the boat from rocking, the tools of yoga don’t stop the experience of grief or sadness, but they do what an anchor is intended to do, keep the boat from being swept away. Likewise, the grounding, orienting, and centering tools of yoga give us something to hold onto when the sea of grief tries to sweep us away.

While yoga is often considered a physical practice, there are many subtle components of yoga such as attention to the breath and meditation practices that work on both a physical and energetic level to support however our minds and bodies may be carrying our grief at any given time.

Sometimes the moving components of yoga may not be helpful, but a guided body scan while lying down can create a profound sense of presence and peace. Alternatively, the movement and breathing practices of yoga can be powerful tools in learning to live with loss when done mindfully.

The courageous hearts that show up to class each week use movement and stillness practices to visit the same places in their bodies grief visits, sometimes countering the effects of grief, sometimes sitting with the effects of grief. Our intention is not to fix, but to create space and awareness for grief to move in and to move out. To find the pockets of love hiding behind the hurt. To nurture a harmonious sense of being full of life and full of loss.

Grief is a practice of learning to live with loss, not something to get over as soon as possible. Yoga is one way we can invite grief to take its rightful place along the spectrum of being human, right up there between love and joy.

Monique Minahan is author of The Unedited Heart: Letters on Loss and co-author of The Grief Practice: An Anthology of Loss. She leads bereavement yoga groups and aims to stand up and live before sitting down to write. Connect with her at moniqueminahan.com or on social media here and here.

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